7 painful things that happen when you live abroad

So, you think you want to live abroad? People move away for all sorts of reasons, all over the world. Not only are people moving permanently to other countries, but more and more people are taking on the ‘digital nomad’ lifestyle. No matter what, why, where or how, there are some tough lessons we all learn along the way. Read on for my story and the truth about living abroad…

sunsetting over a motorway in France. Wind turbines on the side of the road

When I was 18, I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life. I had started and then quit 2 college courses, worked in a café and restaurants and drank far too much while worrying about what to do next. Then a school friend returned from France, raving about a holiday company she had been working for all summer. She explained all about the job and the lifestyle but I only really had one question: “Where do I sign up?”

After passing the interview and getting a start date for March 2010, I started preparing to live abroad for 6 months. I would work in France until the Autumn and then return home, go back into education, knuckle down and get ready to go to university like I was expected to do.

Except, of course, things don’t always turn out the way you expect. And neither do people.

When it came to returning home in September, I couldn’t focus. I started an art course at a new college, but as much as I loved it, I couldn’t see a future with it. I had the travel bug. The following year I returned with the same company, this time in Italy. By the end of 2011, I was in the French Riviera and planning to return as a Team Leader on my own campsite. By 2012 I knew I was going to stick with this life abroad, and use progression rather than education to climb the ladder. By the time I was 24 I had become an Area Manager and I’ve now been living abroad for nearly 10 years. Working 9 months of the year, travelling and visiting family the rest of it.

I can’t imagine what I would have been doing, had I not moved away. I’ve learned so much and I will always recommend living abroad, but like anything, it’s not all fun and adventure. If you’re thinking of moving away or travelling more, then here are some tough life lessons you may find along the way…

UK passport balanced on a suitcase at the airport

1. Nothing changes, but you’re still always missing out.

While you’re abroad, life will go on at home. People will make new friends, fall out, get married, move away. You will regularly miss out on birthdays, weddings and concerts. People will go through breakups and illness without you being there and entire relationships will blossom and breakdown, without you ever having met the partner.

When these things happen, you have to make the most of technology and put time aside to call, text or FaceTime. Sometimes you will find that you’re more eager to do this than the people at home. Other times you might realise months have passed without either of you feeling the need to pick up the phone.

You may drift apart but, sometimes distance can really strengthen relationships too. More often than not, the blame will always fall on you if a friendship breaks down, because no matter how much effort they may or may not put in. You will always be the one that left them.

Even with all these changes, life at home is not as fast passed as living abroad. When you’re living in a new country or regularly travelling, you’re constantly adapting to change. You are forever negotiating new streets, learning new words, meeting new people. So life feels full and fast.

While you might feel like you’re missing out at home, things there are not moving at the same pace. When you return home after months or years, the same feeling of familiarity will still be there. For the most part, people will still be doing the same jobs, living in the same houses, talking about the same things.

walking in the park in winter in Montpellier

One of my best friends, Brie, and her husband, Mike, didn’t meet Lee until their wedding day! We had already been together for over a year. Brie and Mike actually live in France now and you can follow their camping adventures here.

2. Feeling like an alien in your own home.

Even with the internet, it’s really easy to lose touch with popular culture at home. Without TV or Radio from your home country, you’re likely to lose track of which album is top of the charts or what the latest storyline is in Eastenders. I can’t help but stare blankly as my friends list names of people I’ve never heard of; at times I even find myself missing the joke because I don’t know who is on Love Island or winning The Great British Bake-off.

This might seem like such a silly thing, but you would be surprised how alienating it can feel to be one step behind everyone else in the conversation.

Don’t forget this feeling if you experience it, it is the same one your family and friends will have if they visit you abroad and meet the people you’re now living and working with.

mean girls martian meme

3. Questioning yourself and realising when you’re wrong.

This is one of the best things about living abroad. If you feel it happening to you, embrace it. It is the best way to learn and grow as a person and you will become a much more tolerant and understanding traveller for it. When you open yourself up to new people and places, you’re exposed to a whole host of opinions and ideas you may never have considered before. You will have your child-hood beliefs challenged and see the people behind the ideas and religions you previously didn’t ‘get’.

Whether we like to admit it or not, the majority of opinions we have at a younger age are molded on the opinions of our families and aren’t really our own at all.

It’s important to realise that (in some cases) our families have come from ONE kind of background, religion or community. So, whether they mean to or not, they may be quite closed off to the people and places they don’t understand. This doesn’t make them bad people, and it certainly doesn’t make you any better than them either. It just means you have an opportunity to learn and if they’re willing to listen, tell others about what you have learned.

It can be painful to have your beliefs challenged and not everyone is open to it, but it can also be hugely rewarding, so take the time to listen. There is a wonderful saying that I always think of “The sign of intelligence is that you are constantly wondering. Idiots are always dead sure about every damn thing they are doing in their lives.”

3 backpackers staring out over the river Kwai in Thailand


4. Becoming THAT person… and not everyone likes it.

If as I said above, you have been questioning your own beliefs and learning from others, you might become one of THOSE people. One of those people who can no longer keep quiet when the subject of religion, politics or nationalities come up. You suddenly have a stronger opinion on so many subjects and it’s because it is an opinion backed by more than the media or just one experience. You will find it frustrating that people can possibly have such strong opinions on matters they’ve only read about in the paper, and in turn, you will know when to remain open to, and respectful of, subjects you know little about.

It can be really painful realising that you are no longer on the same wave-length as your loved ones. You may start to see them differently or become frustrated with their way of thinking. It’s a tough pill to swallow when you first realise that those you idolised and believed in as a child are not perfect or some cases, actually quite narrow-minded. This will not be the case with everyone, but you will notice it more. And it can be, quite honestly, heartbreaking.

As well as diving into more controversial topics, you’ll find yourself playing the comparison game and referring back to your life abroad more and more. More of your sentences will be starting with “When we were living in France…” and “The food was SO much better in Asia, this one time we had…” This is to be expected and there is nothing wrong with sharing your stories, but be aware that people are quick to think you are being pompous or showing off, even when you aren’t (think Gap Yah guy).

Remember that everyone’s situations are different and if you feel that someone isn’t interested in your life abroad, it could be that they are unhappy with their own lives and are feeling jealous of yours, or you could just be boring them to death talking about yourself and it’s time for a subject change!

Generally, the people who matter will love hearing about your travels and equally will love you enough to tell you when it’s time to shut up about the street food you had in Asia, and just eat your damn takeaway.

group of friends looking out over Monaco in summer

5. Forgetting you’re not on holiday

When you first move abroad, or if you’re travelling, or living in a touristy area, it’s easy to forget you’re not on holiday. Don’t fall into the trap of eating, drinking and spending too much! As much as it might be fun at first, it’s not sustainable or healthy long-term. (trust me, I’ve been that person too many times!) If you wouldn’t spend/eat/drink that much at home, don’t do it abroad!

Fatamorgana gelato in Rome

6. Packing your problems, no matter how hard you try to leave them behind

This is a big one and something I have seen so many people realise the hard way. Whether it’s issues with family, your health, drugs, alcohol or anything else in between; those things will not disappear the moment you step onto a plane. Change is good and travel can do wonders for your confidence but it is not always the answer. I’ve seen so many people try to outrun their problems, only to self destruct once they catch up on them.

7. Swapping things for places

We’re all consumers really aren’t we? No matter what we tell ourselves, everyone is materialistic to a certain extent. When you move abroad, you have different ideas of what you want to spend your money on. Instead of looking for the latest phone upgrades and branded clothing, you start thinking of money in terms of plane tickets and travel essentials. Most of the people you meet will be on a budget and often with travel, comes a love of simple and outdoor living. There is no longer anyone to compete with for the nicest car or clothes. By avoiding shopping centres and TV channels, you avoid the advertising that would once have convinced you to keep buying too!

You’re also likely to live in some very different accommodations. For example, once you’ve tasted the hostel life, you come to appreciate very different things and your idea of luxury changes.

Some of my favourite places to live have been tents! (No, really, I love them!) and after several years of walking across campsites just to pee in the middle of the night, a mobile home feels fancy.

My idea of luxury now is anywhere with carpet and a bathtub! While this is a benefit of travelling, it can feel very different when you get home. When you’ve got nothing to wear on a night out or your phone screen is still smashed to pieces while your friends make the latest Samsung/iPhone comparisons – remember all the incredible experiences you’ve had instead.

view of a Eurocamp staff tent kitchen. Team of holiday reps can be seen through the mesh window

Are you thinking about living abroad, travelling for a year or become a digital nomad? Perhaps you’ve already lived abroad or are still away from home now, can you relate to these life lessons? Join me on Instagram or Facebook and let me know! If you’ve found this an interesting read or can relate, please like and share with your friends or pin for later!

  • Thoughtful post. We’ve been travelling full-time for 5 years and have faced some of the same, the biggest being losing friends because you just drift apart. Absence doesn’t make the heart grow fonder.
    We would never give up our lifestyles. But it’s not the “holiday” that everyone imagines and there are downsides…

    • Absolutely! It can be tough but it is so worth it. You’re right, it certainly shows the strongest friendships too!

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